How to Balance Work and Family

Five Parts:Clarifying Your ValuesSetting Goals and ExpectationsManaging Time and PrioritizingPlanning and Communicating EffectivelyLetting Go

Work and family are both central to our daily lives. Attempting to balance more numerous and complex work and family roles is a source of stress for many of us, mainly because it causes roll strain and spillover. Role strain occurs when the responsibilities of one role interfere with your ability to fulfill the other roles in your life. Spillover happens when the conditions and relationships in one area of our your life impact you in another area. Finding a good balance between your work and home lives is not an easy task, but the benefits to your well-being are worth the effort.

Part 1
Clarifying Your Values

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    Decide what your values are for yourself and your family. A value is a principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desired. Values guide our actions and structure our lives.
    • Areas where we often have strong values include housework, meal and meal times, child care, car and house maintenance, relationships between spouses and parents and children, education, money, politics, religion, etc.
    • Specifying your values is key to managing work and family demands. They tell you what is important in your lives and what matters to you. All too frequently, we don't acknowledge or question our values until a problem arises.
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    Think carefully and deeply. Most of us have some general sense of our values, but this is often vague. Many of our values remain unconscious. These values - the ones we hold but are not entirely aware of - often contribute to feelings of stress; this stress can be understood and managed once we become more in tune with our values.
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    Consider values that conflict with one another. For example, what if you believe that one should be at work early and you also believe that the kitchen should always be clean before one leaves the house? How do you rectify these competing values? Such conflicts are stressful and can leave you feeling drained and unsatisfied until you examine these values and reflect on how they interact.
    • Modifying or prioritizing our values can be one way of easing role strain and conflicts between values. For example, do you value being at work early more or less than leaving the house clean? Decide which is more important to you and go from there.[1]

Part 2
Setting Goals and Expectations

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    Set goals. Goals are important in our lives and help us decide how we use our time.
    • Goals include statements such as "I want to own my own business by the time I am 40," or, "I want to finish college before I start a family." Our predetermined values shape our goals and give us the push needed to achieve those goals. The values underlying these two goals might include a high regard for initiative, achievement, and education.
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    Distinguish between concrete goals and more abstract goals. Some goals may be concrete and specific, like the two examples above. Other goals, however, will likely be more abstract, relational and more reflective of your well-being and place in the world. For example, you may strive to build supportive relationships with friends, raise healthy and responsible children, or cultivate a deeper and more spiritual understanding of yourself.
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    Rank goals. To ease role strain we can choose to put some goals on hold, let go of some, and modify others as needed. Think about the things you want most out of our life when determining this ranking.
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    Consider social and individual expectations, perceptions, and attitudes. Everyone has ideas about how things "should" be done and how people "should" behave in certain situations. Often these expectations, perceptions, and attitudes come from a combination of our own individual values and generally accepted social norms.
    • Identifying the "shoulds" in your life may be harder than figuring out our goals because the former often exist below the surface. However, holding onto attitudes and expectations that don't fit with your current needs can cause conflict and stress. Many of us hold high expectations about "having it all," about being everything to everyone, and being "perfect" in every area of our lives. But in trying to reach these unrealistic expectations, we often find ourselves exhausted, burned out and incapable of effectively fulfilling any one part of our lives. Instead of getting to this point, pause and reflect on the attitudes and expectations you have and adjust those that do not support what you need at a given time.[2]
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    Be flexible and adaptable. Forgive yourself when things are missed and don't get done. In other situations, accept that things will pop up that will require your attention and may result in you having to readjust your goals. Negotiate with your spouse, partner, co-workers, and boss for what you need.
    • Be open to and try to embrace change. Never get too comfortable, because just as soon as things seem to be under control, they can change at a whim![3]

Part 3
Managing Time and Prioritizing

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    Set priorities. Prioritizing is central to effective time management. Juggling work and home life and trying to find time for time with friends and family and on your own is not easy. Even if we are using our time efficiently, this doesn't mean that we are using it effectively. In other words, we might be doing things right, but we aren't necessarily doing the right things. Often, we don’t plan and schedule activities that move us toward our goals, especially those goals that aren’t concrete. One way around this is to prioritize your goals and decide which are most important in the short-term, medium-term, and long-term.
    • Once you have determined which goals are most important for you, start working towards those ones first and foremost. Don't lose sight of your other goals, but try to focus in on those that require your immediate attention.
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    Measure your goals against your available time. Ask yourself what you need to do on a given day to reach the goal you have set for yourself.
    • Figure out a benchmark for your goal. How will you know when you've reached the goal?
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    Set boundaries and limits. These determine how you take charge of your time and space and help you get in touch with and manage your emotions. Boundaries express the extent of your responsibilities, power, and agency; they also inform others what you are willing to do and accept.
    • Be willing to say "no." Remember that being able to say "no" when pressed to take on additional responsibilities is your prerogative; in fact, it is what is key to effectively balancing work and family. For example, if your boss asks you to work over-time but you have already promised to attend your child's school event, you can say that you have already made a commitment and try to find an alternative solution that accommodates your existing commitments.[4]
    • Set boundaries literally on your time. Carve up your daily asks into increments of time; figure out how long you can and are willing to spend on a given task.

Part 4
Planning and Communicating Effectively

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    Get organized on a day-to-day level. Create daily routines and a structured plan each day rather than reacting to whatever comes up. Plan ahead and anticipate your needs.
    • A good idea is to have a back-up plan ready in case of emergencies so that you are prepared with a contingency plan should the need arise.
    • Establish a supportive network that you can draw on. Connect with friends, relatives, neighbors, coworkers, and professionals. Be ready and willing to ask for help if you need it.
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    Build breaks into your daily routine. It's good practice to make time for other activities besides work so that your days are balanced, enjoyable and fulfilling.
    • Make time healthy habits, such as eating health food, exercising, meditating and taking other forms of quiet time.[5] Many gyms, for example, are open over the lunch hour and may offer a reduced corporate membership.
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    Block out time your calendar for your family and friends. You block out time for meetings at work, so apply the same principle to your home life? Scheduling this time with family in advance will make it hard to cancel at the last minute and helps set that time in stone. Treat your family as if they matter just as much as the most important business person in the world and don't miss your "scheduled meetings" with them.[6]
    • Eat meals as a family. Studies have shown that sharing a family meal together benefits the spiritual, mental, and physical well being of the entire family. Families that eat together have lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression, as well as higher grades and self-confidence.[7] Eating together helps keep a family connected and engaged with one another; it can become one of the most enjoyable parts of the day for kids and parents alike. [8]
    • Make time for the big and small moments in life. Take time to celebrate major milestones, achievements, graduations, birthdays, and holidays together with your family. Even marking smaller accomplishments (e.g., your child's winning goal in the championships) with a small token or special gathering will help each family member feel special and valued.
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    Take evenings off.
    • Do something basic with your partner and/or family. It doesn't have to be a special event or take long, just something where you are together with them, such as watering the garden or taking care of the lawn, going for a drive or walk together, etc. As long as you are relaxed and listening, they'll feel that they're getting the attention they need and want.
    • Enjoy the bedtime routine if you have children, including bathing them, reading to them and putting them to bed. Spending these moments with them lets them know that you care and are available for them. [9]
    • Use the rest of the evening to catch up on the day with your spouse or partner. Consider this like a debriefing session; ask questions about one another's day and offer advice or guidance, or simply listen. The day-to-day is just as important to a healthy, mutually beneficial and sustaining romantic relationship as the grand gestures and proposals.
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    Cut out time-wasting activities. We waste a lot of time in our daily lives thanks to television, Internet, video games, etc. Try removing any unnecessary distractions that don't really add any value to or enhance your live.
    • Set specific times for activities like web-surfing, watching TV, and playing video games. Pick and choose what you will do and for how long. For example, if you have a favorite TV show that airs on Thursday nights for an hour, set aside the time to watch it, but do other things before, rather than watch more TV as you wait. Consider TV-watching an activity that is time-bound, rather than a way to pass the time. When in doubt, ask yourself "what matters most in my life?" Returning to and reflecting on your core values is a good way to pull yourself away from wasting time and spend that time on something that matters.[10]
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    Talk to family and friends about your workload. Address how they feel about your work-life balance. By keeping the lines of communication open, you are avoiding building up resentment among those affected by your actions.
    • Explain to your family and friends why sometimes you are not able to do everything they would like you to do (e.g., you have to miss a school event because of a work obligation). Openly explaining the situation can help others understand and empathize with your situation.[11]

Part 5
Letting Go

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    Re-assess what it means to be in control. Many times we feel we have more control if we do everything ourselves. However, this can keep us from reaching our real goals; we're not super-humans after all!
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    Delegate or divide work to accomplish priority needs and wants. Although many of us resist reallocating home and work tasks for fear of losing control, we stand to gain from delegating work. We will not be overextended and will be better able to successfully meet the remaining and important tasks. Delegating is not easy work because it relies on trusting others with things that matter to us; however, it is key to finding that work-life balance.
    • For example, you may ask the babysitter to get started on cooking dinner before you get home from work or ask him or her to do some light cleaning. This will give you a bit of a jump ahead on your household responsibilities.
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    Make compromises. Try to find ways to simplify your life where possible and given your particular circumstances.
    • For example, if you feel crushed for time to do grocery shopping each week, try online shopping. You can pick what you want and have it delivered to your house. A few extra dollars may be worth it to save a lot of time, depending on your situation.
    • Look locally for projects, organizations, and businesses that might be able to help you save time, such as dry cleaners that offer early morning pickup and drop off or milk delivery services.[12]
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    Let go of the guilt. Stop the burden of guilt from hanging over your day. Many people feel guilty for being at work instead of at home; the opposite is also true. This is a zero-sum game.[13]
    • Accept that having or doing it all is a myth. Instead, realize that the most important thing is that you do the best you can given your situation and limitations. Rather than constantly feel guilty, re-focus your energy on doing the very best you can do everyday - in all capacities of your life - with the time you have.[14]
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    Incorporate relaxation and downtime into your schedule.
    • Do something that relaxes you as an individual. Exercise, go for a long walk, listen to music, read, cook or do a yoga class. Take downtime for yourself; this is necessary self-care that will make you more able to deal with the stresses of your day-to-day life.
    • Make one night a week a fun night for yourself and your family. Plan a movie night, games night or family night out. Everyone gets caught up in their daily routines and schedules so it's a good idea to have one night a week where everything stops and the entire family comes to together to reconnect.[15]
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    Avoid negative people in your life. Surround yourself with people who boost your energy and make you feel positive, directed, and grounded, while avoiding those who gossip, complain, or have generally negative attitudes.


  • To figure out what areas of your life are out of balance, try the following exercise. Draw a large circle on a piece of paper and divide it into 8-10 pie wedges. Label each section with an area of your life that matters to you (such as friends, family, health, work, recreation, money, spiritual growth, romantic relationships, etc.). Rate your satisfaction in each of these areas. Imagine the circle's outer edge as total satisfaction and the center of the circle as total dissatisfaction. In each wedge, place a small dot to indicate your satisfaction in that area (e.g., if you are moderately satisfied, place your dot in the middle between the center and the edge). Connect the dots to create a new perimeter for your circle. If you were rolling the circle like a wheel, would it be smooth or bumpy? To achieve balance (and a smooth roll to the wheel!), attend to the areas with the greatest gaps; those are the spots in your life needing balance. [16]

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Categories: Creating Life Balance